Monthly Archives: September 2014

1st Annual Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Introduction

Horror-wood

 

With Halloween around the corner, I decided to try something different this year. Again, I plan to make more use of my blog and I still have a Vaulting episode around the corner. But I want to do something I never had the courage to do. And that is to commit to the ultimate blog-a-thon. And what better occasion than Halloween. The time of ghosts, goblins and spooks running about creating frolic and chaos. But also, this is when a curious movie goer would sit back and see the occasional horror flick. Only problem is that there are tons to choose from ranging in tone and style.

Well, no need to worry. Here at the Blockbuster Chronicles, we got the goods to recommend for this year and it will be done all in one month. Each day of October will be a different movie review or a review of a film franchise. Some from the past and some from today. Some that are campy and some that are garbage. This is sort of my personal “Horror Movie Guide” and I hope to do it each year seeing the big filmbuff I can be. Not only will there be a review but also behind the scenes triva, a brief look at its sequels or remakes depending on film and if I’ve seen them and also the cut stuff (after all, censorship was a big thing of horror films in the past so I feel its far to elaborate on a few that got hit hard by it.)

Now before the big month starts, I have to lay some ground rules. I do plan to look at some of the classic monsters films first and then we’ll dig into some contemporary stuff like Psycho or The Thing. It will be out of order and have no kind of sequencing. Its all at random and you will never know what movie will be next. If there is a franchise, then I have to talk about its sequels. If there are more than three movies, I have to either do three to four a day or do individual posts based on the film and other factors. You can request titles at facebook.com/VaultingOfficial but I can’t guarantee it will be picked. It will be based on interest and if I have enough time seeing there’s only 31 days.

Regardless, I hope to have a lot of fun with this. We’ll do some great horrors you know and some you might not even heard of. 31 days of 31 blog posts and it all begins on October 1st. So join us if you dare to the Blockbuster Chronicles’ 1st Annual Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon!

Why the Hate: Ghostbusters II

Who you gonna call...for a low brow but ok sequel?

Who you gonna call…for a low brow but ok sequel?

In honor of the new Blu-ray release of “Ghostbusters” and its 30th Anniversary, I felt it would be fitting to look at its sequel and where it stands. Not just with myself but even today as well. The general consensus is that more regard it as a waste of time while others are a bit more forgiving. Honestly, I was brought up more on the first film than the second one and there were times when the sequel did play on television but I only saw bits and pieces. When I finally saw it for the first time, I was probably 8 or 9 and just thought it was ok. Well, know that I’m older and my passion for films is expanding, I might as well get this one off my chest.

But let me start off by saying the first “Ghostbusters” movie was a tough act to follow up with. It was so well-done and everything seemed to wrap itself up nicely at the end. Even the finale which has a giant monster made out of marshmallows was so iconic that there was no way to top it. Well, they tried and I admit, there are some nice things about it but there are points when it feels too close to the first film. Instead of spirits plaguing Manhattan, its a giant river of pink slime. Worse of all, it feels off everyone’s emotions so the more aggressive the slime feels, the more damage it does. And it doesn’t help that New York is the angriest city on Earth to emit such a negative amount of energy.

A river of slime that feeds on negativity?!? I wonder if Internet trolls work the same way...

A river of slime that feeds on negativity?!? I wonder if Internet trolls work the same way…

So far a silly idea but maybe the old gang will be able to figure this out. Well, that would be the case if they didn’t go their separate ways. This is probably one of the problems I have with this movie. In the end of the first film, there’s a hinting impression they are hailed as heroes. Now, they are banned from continuing any Ghostbusting activity all because of the damage that was made. So all that supernatural Gozer stuff is now their fault? I guess you could argue the fighting with Gozer might have done something but if four guys take down an all-powerful being in the form of a tasty snack, you have to give them some leeway.

So now, the gang is split and doing different things. Peter (Bill Murry) has a short lived TV shows about the paranormal, Ego (the late but great Harold Ramis) is doing work on a university while Ray and Winston (Dan Ayrkroyd and Ernie Hudson) try to make a living with a bookstore and being child party entertainers. Its nice to see the group try to make it out in the real world and it does lead to some funny gags. But I still question how these guys who just saved the world can sink so low. The continuity of this movie which is set five years after the first one is a bit frustrating to comprehend. A good example is Dana (Sigourney Weaver) and her subplot as its revealed her interest as a cellist dropped when her ex-husband left her with a kid in her hands. It doesn’t help either they hint that Dana and Peter were once dating and you can see it considering the chemistry between Bill and Sigourney in the last movie. But to dump him and marry a violinist? I can’t picture that happening.

Peter MacNicol with a painting of Vigo the Carpathian. One of many intersting elements of the first film that is "borrowed" but not wated

Peter MacNicol with a painting of Vigo the Carpathian. One of many intersting elements of the first film that is “borrowed” but not wated

Dana works with an eccentric art preservationist (Peter MacNicol) at an art museum who are cleaning up the painting of a sixteenth century tyrant named Vigo the Carpathian. As it turns out the painting is possessed with the spirit of Vigo and plans to move his spirit into the body of Dana’s baby son. Its the typical exorcism route and I guess they wanted to step it up with having a kid in the mix. So the Ghostbusters have to come back to not only deal with the ghost of a magician but also a massive river of pink slime that keeps feeding off the negative energy New York’s civilians expel.

Its a wonder to see how two different ideas for a Ghostbusters movie could be molded into one. These are two interesting ideas but it feels weird to how they are connected. The first movie was a straight forward narrative that kept building and building while throwing in a few things that mattered to the storyline. Here, it feels like they looked at the elements that made the first one work and see if anything could be expanded on. Most notable is the ecto-plasma slime which becomes more of a plot element that part of the ghosts. Its interesting to see something small expanded on and it does lead to some creative gags and effects. But having connect to the Vigo storyline feels uneven to me. Its hard to explain but Vigo feels like a last minute seeing so much time is spent trying get the Ghostbusters back together and examining mood slime.

Even at times, it feels there is much material that is being “borrowed” too heavily. Its almost like taking the first draft, erasing out the dialogue and story and re-writing it with something similar but with different concepts. On one hand, Rick Moranis returns as the nerdy Louis Tully who tries to be a lawyer/financial adviser to the team with some great laughs but on the other hand you have Kurt Fuller playing Jack Hardemeyer, a slimy assistant to the mayor who feels like a clone of the Walter Peck character from the first film and he just wants to see the spirit fighting team out of business. Its obvious they knew the surprise and excitement of the first movie couldn’t be topped but I can’t say the effort was wasted. Like I said, there’s a nice gag once in a while and I can’t remember a time when I felt like the Ghostbusters were out of it or too aged. The chemistry is there with Ray and Ego spouting more science jargon while Peter has to deal with a kid he thinks is “ugly with a short nose and a bellybutton that sticks out.” And there is some great set piece moments I didn’t even talk about like a brief joke where the Titanic arrives or the gang using the Statue of Liberty  at one point through matters of possession.

Rick Moranis and his attempt to capture Slimer in a deleted scene that can be found on the new Blu-ray

Rick Moranis and his attempt to capture Slimer in a deleted scene that can be found on the new Blu-ray

There’s even talk of some missing scenes that could improved the movie or at least strengthen it. The new Blu-ray release contains roughly eight minutes of material that didn’t make it in but fans might be disappointed to see its not all of the material. Not available is Eugene Levy’s cameo as Louis Tully’s brother and additional effects scenes like a deleted subway frog ghost are unknown to be existing or lost. But I can say the material that was placed on the new release is interesting to look at. There’s more banter between the gang that is amusing and a few Bill Murray moments I wish they kept in. The biggest highlight I’m sure everyone will talk about is a cut scene included on the Blu-ray where Louis Tully (Rick Moranis) tries to capture Slimer and tells Jannie his dream to a be a Ghostbuster. It enhances a big plot hole in the final act and does something different enhancing some character development.

So this movie has a lot of problems that go against it, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it. It follows in the view of sequels that at the time where more low-brow and less “let’s try and overdo what we did.” I did manage to see this on the big-screen as part of a Midnight Screening ordeal at a local theater and I did have some fun with it. Its not as good as the first film but there is a nice charm to it. They knew there is only one “Ghostbusters” and did what they could. Once in a while, there is a nice gag and an impressive special effect but its recycled status is questionable. I saw in an interview once that script writer Dan Aykroyd (who also was the brain child of the first film) wanted to reflect the depressing times of the Reagan era. Hence the idea of the mood slime. Well for a movie to come out at the end of the 1980’s, it certainly reflects that but I wish there was more social commentary and subtext to it. Overall, not as bad as many make out to be but it could have been better and it could have been worse. A decent follow-up that deserves a good re-watch.

Rental Corner: “South Park” Vulgar, Outdated and Hilarious

"Uh-Oh" indeed...

“Uh-Oh” indeed…

Upon its debut episode, “South Park” has been hailed and continues to be for its topical episodes and humor that makes “The Simpsons” look like Disney. I myself have seen the show and aside from its twisted humor, I do admire how it makes a stand against issues the question of censorship, commenting on events like 9/11 or the Zimmerman trail and even satirizing our daily lives right down to having the N.S.A. use Santa Claus for their privacy checks. At this point, a big-screen adaption would be perfect but the problem is that it happened before and in my opinion too early in the success of the show.

“South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut” lives up to its title seeing the animation is cheap but rendered and created on a grander scale, it is 40 – 50 minutes longer than a normal episode and has jokes that wouldn’t dare be seen on Comedy Central. The hype for this movie was big back in 1999 and even today many regard it as one of the greatest animated movies of all time. I hate to step on some toes but I feel different about this one. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good movie but I wouldn’t go that far to say its a masterpiece.

Stan and his friends sneak into a movie starting their favorite Canadian comedians Terrance and Philip but find there is a reason to the R-rating as the film is full of swears and obscenities. The mothers find out and sure enough start to campaign against, not just the movie, but eventually the film’s stars to the point war is waged on Canada. To think one small situation can lead to a huge battle as the freedom of speech is put to the test as just how much material should we expose not just to children but even allow all together.

The movie reflects the harsh nature of the show a lot while making subtle points in our culture. One example is a rally against Canada with one of the mothers Shelia Broflovski talking about how they should protect kids and yet their own sons are in front of them asking to listen to what they have to say about what is going on. Scenes like that are fine as they get the point across to just how extreme we can be at shielding our children from mature material. But then the message starts to wear its welcome out as they continuously address it again and again. Even right up to one of the mothers addressing how the MPAA allows graphic violence but yet has a bone to pick with salty, raunchy dialogue. We get it. The movie is dominate with its political message that it gets tiresome to the point we want to end it sooner.

Points are made further in the guise of subplots that push things further but fit for the sake of the characters. Cartman gets a V-Chip implanted in his brain that causes him to get a shock from his swearing while Kyle tries to muster the courage to tell his mother that what she is doing is more harm than she thinks. It cleverly reflects the neglect parents have in listening to what their kids feel and even the controversy that surrounded the show itself. Almost in a way, this is the creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker expressing their thoughts on the parental backlash the show got along with the others before it like Beavis and Butt-Head and The Simpsons.

While the first half is well paced and knows what to do, the entire second portion gets lost in its political satire and constant snowballing as a friend of the group named Kenny goes to Hell after attempting a dangerous stunt and meets Satan who turns out to be not as horrible as he’s supposed to be made. The closeted good guy demon wishes to live on Earth while dealing with a sex-crazed Saddam Hussein who has more interest in world conquest than a mutual relationship with the ruler of Hell. This is an interesting concept but with a film that already clocks in at 82 minutes, where is the space for this? I guess it adds on to prejudice and don’t judge something but its looks but its way too late in the game as the little mountain town wages war with Canada and plans to execute the fart-loving Canadians they capture.

I don’t mind a movie that snowballs into chaos but it starts to fall apart midway when (again) it hammers in the messages and themes its presenting. I guess that is part of the point seeing its the way the series worked but better in a 23 minute episode because its short and quick to the point. Had there been an extra 10 to 15 minutes, there would be room to expand on things like the Satan subplot and even more curious is Shelia’s hate with Canada that is obviously shown but feels ambiguous at the same time. A moment during the climax where the parents “quit” the group to actually save their kids, Shelia looks on at the violent battle they have created with no emotional effect. Why is that? We never get answer or anything is made clear of it.

Outside of the offensive humor that is a staple of the show, “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut” is 15 years old and it shows. Most of the political commentary about how far we must push censorship holds up but most of it feels outdated. We’ve come so far from planting chips in televisions to Christian Watchdog groups that feels more like a look back at this and laugh than a message delivery. Even the look of the movie is a tad crude when you consider how the look of the show is today with how so much Flash animation has come a long way from. I feel newcomers will question why some characters get more screen time than others while being lost at the mention of pop culture references like Bryan Addams and a song dedicated to a famed ice skater.

I forgot to mention. The whole movie is a parody of the Disney formula as well right down to having it be a movie musical. Transitioning into the goods of “Bigger, Longer and Uncut,” even if you don’t like the gross-out jokes then you must admit the songs are great. From the innocent opener “Mountain Town” to the Oscar-nominated “Blame Canada,” these songs satire the archetype of how most animated movies of the 1990’s were for kids and had songs. Ironic how the songs feel straight out of an Alan Menken songbook and are in a mature movie. And when the jokes are solid, they can be really solid. Its nice to see a comedy that is more character driven and less on how we can ante up others like The Hangover.

But aside from that, the biggest problem I have with “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut” is that it came out way too early in the show’s success. Sure shows like Twin Peaks got a movie after its short-lived run but “South Park has been on the air for more than 17 seasons and its big time for a movie came out too soon in my opinion. This was also when Trey and Matt were toying with ideas and the style of the humor and it shows. Even the creators have gone on to say that if the first 40+ episodes went missing, they wouldn’t care because of how rough they are. And even this movie reflects it considering its focus is on how cruder and gross can we make these jokes to be and less on how it should affect the characters. I feel the show got better and funnier in later seasons but the movie doesn’t feel it has aged for those reasons. But seeing it as a film on its own without thinking of it being an adaption, its still good in my books.

Why The Hate: The Flintstones (1994)

The movie not too many have a "gay old time" with

The movie not too many have a “gay old time” with

When it comes to live-action adaptions, Hannah Barbera seems to be getting not much luck. Scooby Doo was a complete mess of a picture, Top Cat was lost in its technological satire and the animated Tom and Jerry film from 1992 was far worse. The only film in the batch that I feel is harmless compared to the rest is the 1994 live-action adaption of “The Flintstones.” The original 1960’s TV series was well-known for being the first prime-time animated sitcom for adults with everyday life placed in the Stone Age. In fact, arguably, some say its The Honeymooners in the Stone Age with gruff Fred Flintstone working hard with a loyal wife and goofy next door neighbor. I enjoy the series as a kid with the idea of cavemen acting like modern day people with the joke pushed further with prehistoric animals being used as household appliances. It was fun, creative and certainly a perfect vehicle for a feature film. However, this wasn’t the first time everyone’s modern day stone age family went to the big screen.

1966 gave us “The Man Called Flintstone,” a spy/musical/comedy that barley works. I was fine with the doppleganger Fred who is really a secret agent arch but was it really necessary to throw in song after song. And sadly, the humor didn’t fit the bill either with predicable gags that feel recycled, predicable and forced. Its a shame seeing there was great potential here but wasted under all those musical numbers and kiddie fair. At this point, the show was in a decline while cranking out juvenile stories just to get a kid audience. From fantasy concepts to the Great Gazoo, its seems the original purpose of the show’s existence and intended audience was lost.

Jump to the 1980’s where writer after writer was hired to get a live-action production of the Flintstones off the ground with one idea being a “Grapes of Wraith” style story. It seems all would be lucked out til director Brian Levant was brought on deck to deliver a script that would work and a film for the summer of 1994. Seeing he was big into the Flintstones and maintained an entire living room of memorabilia, it appeared he would be the perfect choice. Brian had a history with television writing for shows like Happy Days and Mork and Mindy so his style of sitcom humor matched the prehistoric family. However, according to the DVD’s documentary, the whole script was written in the style of sitcom writers where three people would gather in one room and bounce ideas and scenes off each other. And perhaps, this is where things fell apart for viewers.

The story tries to be a throwback to the old Flintstones that relied on adult matters like marriage or poker night with friends. The Slate and Co. get a new executive named Cliff Vandercave (played by David Lynch veteran Kyle MacLachlan) who plans to rob the company of its stock and profits with his sultry assistant Sharon Stone (Halle Berry) at his aide. But they plan to infect more damage by finding the right stooge to pinpoint the money laundering to. While that goes on, Fred clears out his savings to help his friend Barney Rubble adopt a kid. With a good deed in mind, Barney decides to payback Fred by switching aptitude tests on an I.Q. exam resulting in Fred being an executive and Barney getting the shaft.

First, let’s talk about the biggest problem here many have pointed out. For Cliff to find the right “stooge,” he makes an I.Q. test to find someone dumb enough to follow his plan and be conned. Considering the majority of Slate & Co’s workers are dimwitted neanderthals, wouldn’t it make sense to get the one with the lowest score instead? I guess when you take into consideration how devolved some of the workers are, it does make sense but you have to someone with a brain the size of a pea to do such bidding like firing co-workers and embezzlement.

Things get more complex when the Flintstones are richer than kings and start to go through a snobbish transformation that places Fred’s friendship with the Rubbles on the line. I guess its the only thing that does work in this movie seeing how focused it becomes. I feel bad but find it funny how Barney is put through every temp job in Bedrock while amused at Fred’s dumbfounded enjoyment with his riches. The original show itself centered a lot on the two cavemen so its not bad to see their friendship put to the test even if it has been done countless times before on the series.

You have to admit. John Goodman fits the part...

You have to admit. John Goodman fits the part…

The casting is one thing that gets a mixed feeling from viewers. John Goodman is (and always will be) Fred Flintstone. He is all around perfect from the gruff attitude to even looking like him. Goodman does a fantastic job bring this role to life knowing when to make greedy character sympathetic. Fred can be a jerk but he has a heart of gold and Goodman really delivers it. Rick Moranis is surprisingly decent as Barney Rubble getting the personality to a tea as an example that just because the voice isn’t there doesn’t mean its not all there. Moranis brings the altruist feeling of Barney to life seeing how Rick is good at soft and meek characters.

But not everyone is 100% perfect. I think Elizabeth Perkins is ok as Wilma keeping the feisty attitude of the character while trying to live up to being between a good wife and Fred’s conscious but not much screen time is devoted to her. Sure she does become a big help to Fred in the third act, but we don’t see much of her in the first portion of the movie to establish the working of her character that much. Also on the side is Rosie O’Donnell who I’m dead mixed about. Truth be told, she was hired on because of big of a Flintstones fan she was and Roise tries to channel every essence of the character here but something feels off. On one hand, she channels the character really well and keeps the quiet yet optimistic feel but I feel she would have been better suited as Fred’s mother-in-law knowing Rosie’s loud and sarcastic wit would really been a huge highlight. Speaking of which, Elizabeth Taylor cameos as Fred’s loud mother-in-law Pearl who plays her up as a shrill and crabby resident. In the show, Peal equally matched Fred’s attitude (and height) to the point the two egos would clash with hilarious results. Here, I feel bad Elizabeth has to try and overpower someone bigger and louder than her when anyone else could play her and their wouldn’t be a difference.

On the bright side, some of the original voice cast return making for either small cameos or be crucial characters. I’m glad Levant was able to obtain some of Mel Blanc’s voice performance as the pet Dino and Jean Vander Pyl makes a cameo during a conga line. Harvey Corman also returns as Fred’s Dictabird who plays a big part later in the film while channeling between a piece of office equipment and Fred’s conscious. The way the two minds clash with Fred’s unthinkable power and the bird’s moral value makes for some good comedy at times. And you have to give props to the set design and effect work from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop in bringing Bedrock to life. Not only did they make buildings but even chairs and furniture from scrap to give it that stony/gravel feel. A lot of detail and craft was placed in bringing this prehistoric place to life and it shows.

Dino is one of the amazing creations from Jim Henson's Creature Shop. Originally meant to be a man in a suit, it was later decided to have a CGI full body and a hand puppet for closeups.

Dino is one of the amazing creations from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. Originally meant to be a man in a suit, it was later decided to have a CGI full body and a hand puppet for closeups.

Even though “The Flintstones” was a big hit in the summer of 1994 (with a budget of $46 milion, it grossed $130 million and nearly $350 million worldwide), it still didn’t survive the critics. Many gave it the shaft for being too adult for kids and too boring for adults. Since then, its has developed a reputation over the years as being a movie viewers accept and can live with it or something that is easy to hate on. Personally, I think this movie gets disliked way too easily. What viewers must take note is that this IS how the original show was. It was never meant for kids in the first place and I feel this is where mainstream viewers get lost with it. They want to treat like a film for the adults that grew up with the show while tossing in juvenile humor for the little ones. Heck, they even have Pebbles and Bam-Bam in the movie which further cements its status as a family film.

I will admit, I did grow up on this movie. Its my personal “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” I had a huge fixation with the series as a kid and even watched it with my fascination of the Stone Age acting like our modern life. When I saw the 1994 movie, I wasn’t disappointed. I liked the cast and the special effects while as an adult, I surprisingly feel like it holds up. Sure the story is nothing special and I’m a bit nit-picky on some of the casting, but here is what I think makes it work. It doesn’t feel desperate like today’s big screen adaptations. In today’s world, you can make it all CGI, toss in a few crude jokes and make it hip to the point its easily dated. Watching this adaption, I didn’t get that feeling. Ok, obviously its a 1990’s film considering the layed-back optimistic tone most 90’s movies carried and some pop culture references are tossed in. But I don’t think it diminishes the movie that much.

If you dislike this movie, I won’t act like I don’t. Some viewers can stand cheap puns and again the story does have a few plot holes. But I think with everything and every bit of effort that was tossed in, I felt like this is the closets we will get to a decent adaptation of a Hannah-Barbera classic. Even co-creator Joseph Barbera himself stated in an interview that the story wasn’t good but was impressed with the visuals. As it stands, its not a masterpiece by an means but they really did try. I can’t say this is a total failure (that is if you compare it to “The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas”) but its between mostly harmless and straight up guilty pleasure for me. So check out and determine if you will get a “yabba dabba do” time with this flick.

“Nerd” is fun but short of blockbuster

Its a sh**load of f*** but its enjoyable

Its a sh**load of f*** but its enjoyable

For those who have been living under a rock, filmmaker James Rolfe created a webseries persona called the “Angry Video Game Nerd” that has been viral since 2006. For past eight years, he has chugged every bottle of Rolling Rock in existence to null the pain of the many bad video games and (sometimes) video gaming consoles. This webeseries has a massive fanbase ranging from those who enjoy his bashing and rants on “what where they thinking” as well as his dictionary of obscenities that feel more like adjectives to the dreaded 8-bit nightmares and less like tossed swears. I admit I enjoy his episodes and the satire of the current generation with their thoughts on nostalgia from the 1980’s and 90’s. But little did we know that somewhere down the road would there be a big screen adaption to complement just how far James has come as a reviewer, actor and director.

“Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie” made its theatrical run last month and is currently available as a digital download.  The hype for this one has been huge as the teased hat trick surrounds the promise of a review on the notorious Atrai game E.T. and the whole story centered around the mythos that tons of game cartridges are buried somewhere in the Nevada desert. Recently, that myth was proven true. But this movie gives it own fictional account with a few humorous twists. But with all that hard effort making the script, getting massive fan support from Kickstarter and seeing it finally completed, was that wait worth it? The answer is yes. Now when I first heard about this movie, I didn’t know what to expect. My initial thought was to be a “Rocky” style picture with a video game tournament almost like a parody of “The Wizard.” I was far off but what we got in the end was enjoyable and fits the series.

The Nerd is recognized by his fans for his video game bashing but he fears his criticisms are being used as advertising than a warning. Its not until fan pressure puts him on the edge of doing a review of E. T. (spelled Eee Tee in the film to possible avoid copyrights from Amblin). His cameraman/fan/companion Cooper (Jeremy Suarez of Brother Bear fame…yes, Koda is in the Nerd movie) also joins in on the peer pressure to the point the Nerd wants to see the truth of Atari Landfill debunked. If that wasn’t enough, a video game corporation is crafting a sequel to the infamous video game and one of its scheming executives (Sarah Glendening of soap opera fame) plans to use the Nerd to sell it seeing his rants create revenue.

Somewhere tossed into the mix is a subplot about an Area 52 base that might have some connection with the horrible video game. Led by the deranged General Dark Onward, he plans to see the truth be buried while his leg-less body is stuck in a mobile wheelchair that would make the handicap envious as it is built like a tank (literally). Needless to say, watching a crazy war general has never been this fun since George C. Scott and his crack ups in Dr. Strangelove.

As Nerd and company battle off the Army and even other-worldly beings at one point, we get treated to one action scene after another as the viewers keep wondering just how will that video game review make an impact. To fans and viewers eagerly waiting to hear the Nerd’s thoughts, you might be disappointed. After countless chase scenes and moments that pay homage or parody classic movies ranging from Dirty Harry to even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, the last third of the Nerd movie starts to drag. All that build up and potential comes to halt with more chaotic scenes and cameos that are nice but I kept wondering how this will all add up in the conclusion. Even moments in the early start like a road trip montage and a never-ending nightmare scene could have been easily cut down or possible removed to strengthen the pace. There’s even a scene where the Nerd team has to pass through a live-action video game stage in a scientists’ house but its quick and could have been easily cut or expanded to be a highlighted moment. I understand this is padding it out to an explosive finale but with so many good concepts and ideas seeing the first two-thirds, it gets a little fatigued near the end as a giant robot god terrorizes Las Vegas while destroying some casinos in the process.

A lot of this stuff is good but after some great scenes in the first portion, I feel those elements weaken the conclusion. But even then some things do feel rushed like a last minute moral about how “life is a video game” and concepts that were introduced as a minor plot element get treated like a crucial part at the end. And yet, it doesn’t feel that crucial. Perhaps if more time was spent developing these other-worldly things (which I desperately wish to spoil but can’t) there would be a feeling of impact or resolution to it. Even some of the things in the first half like the evil corporation’s desire to sell Eee Tee 2 to the public doesn’t feel full resolved. Video gamers are taught a lesson, they make a certain decision with the new sequel and that’s it. No reaction from the boss as all the video games are dealt with and not the company.  Such a wasted opportunity.

However, for all that its worth, is “Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie” worth seeing? Of course! Despite its problems, I do feel Jame’s film holds up in the first two-thirds. I will admit its a great change to see practical effects being done considering how much CGI work has dominated Hollywood’s films. For an independent feature that parodies and celebrates everything nostalgic, its decent and harmless but I don’t think this is a movie for everyone. There are some references and jokes that might go over a mainstream viewer’s head and I do feel the conclusion is so rushed to the point it will leave viewers wondering if all is well in the universe of the Nerd or is this all build for a second entry. As it stands, this is enjoyable with a lot of care obviously placed into making feel like a watered down version of a Troma movie but in a good way. If your the kind of viewer that likes “so bad, its good” with extra cheese, this one is for you. And I have a thought to address to James Rolfe. If he does plan to make a sequel, have it be called AVGN 2: Montezuma’s Revenge. And for those who get the in-joke behind it, then I’m sure you won’t have a hard time enjoying this flick.

Rental Corner: “Popeye” slow and messy but underrated

It is what it is...but its better than today's live action transitions

It is what it is…but its better than today’s live action transitions

Why is it hard to adapt a classic cartoon into a big screen venture these days? I kept asking myself that when it comes to today’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks” or the “The Last Airbender,” they fall very short of being in the style of its two dimensional source or feel way off. But then, you have those adaptions that come very close to capturing the spirit and charm. Case and point is “Popeye” which is the usual butt of many jokes in live-action adaptions. Interestingly enough is the split vote on Rotten Tomatoes with viewers disliking it more than critics. I want to say this movie does have a cult following and I believe it does. But I feel more tend to have a deaf ear then give it a watch. And I can see why.

Robin Williams stars as the title character who is gruff, tough as nails and can knock a man down in one swing. Robin doesn’t do a bad job looking and acting like everyone’s favorite sailor but there are times when I feel he’s restrained a bit. Robin Williams is best known for his unexpected improvisation but there are times when I feel like he’s sticking to the script too much and less making the character of Popeye his own. There are times when he does shine in scenes like talking about the times with his dad and getting into fist fights. But when he talks, it feels straight from the script but under Robin’s delivery.

Much like the cartoon character, Popeye mumbles his way through the picture as we not only try to understand what he is saying half the time (and there are moments when we can) while also trying to understand the plot. He lands in a small sea side town called Sweet Heaven that looks impressive and has cheery and nervous inhabitants that live on washed out buildings that have a depressing but unique charm to it. Wooden planks hold up house and restaurants that serve endless hamburgers that feel like cross between a tourist attraction at Universal Studios and a rocky rundown village.

I guess the reason why the place is nice but sad looking is because its run by heavy-weight sailor Bluto (Paul L. Smith) constantly taxes the town and treats it like money pit than a place. I want to say he is the villain of the movie (and he partly is) but he doesn’t have much motive other than trying to court the Oyl family’s daughter while seeking the buried treasure of his boss named the Commodore. Speaking of the Oyl’s, I have to give props for Shelley Duvall and her potray of Olive Oyl who not only looks the part but even goes as far to channel the feisty but manic nature of the character. Bluto plans to wed her but that doesn’t go over easily when the tough as nails Popeye takes up residence in the Oyl household.

I know your at this point wondering what the main story to all of this and the answer is really none. I guess you could argue its about Popeye trying to fit in with the strange cast of characters ranging from a man named Whimpy (Paul Dooley) who has a constant hunger for hamburgers to trying to take care of an orphan child name Swee’Pea. There is a reason the squinty-eyed sailor is in Sweet Heaven as he explains the search for his father but that never comes back until the last third as a big twist. The whole movie is really on auto-pilot as it lazily shifts from one character to the next and feels all over the place. But at the same time, your focus is really on the characters with their interactions to this and here is where I feel is the heart of the movie.

The trouble with today’s adaptions is to give characters a motive or shoehorn in a way to make them understandable with today’s audience. I feel this take on Popeye is spot on despite its faults. It doesn’t need pop culture references or modern day lingo. One character comes in with a problem and it somehow builds into a story. Perhaps that is not the best way to do a story but it works fine here. If you take into consideration the many adventures of Popeye from his comic strip and the Paramount cartoons, they were very much laid back stories that kept building and building to something. The difference is that the cartoons where short and had a focus. The movie, however, tosses a lot at the screen and some of it sticks or doesn’t.

I feel its too late to mention that “Popeye” is a musical and the origin of how this came to be is stranger. Producer Robert Evens wanted to do an adaption of Annie but lost the big bidding war to the film rights (seriously, EVERY STUDIO WANTED TO DO “Annie” AT THE TIME). So the logical choice was to make a movie musical close to Annie while using a different character. The good news is that “Popeye” beat Annie to the punch as the first comic strip character to have a movie musical but the bad news is that we got “Popeye” as the first movie musical based on a comic strip character. Most of the songs do work like Popeye’s “I Yam What I Yam” that add character but some just feel unneeded like a rant on “Kids” or Olive’s “He’s Needs Me” which feels off tune and uninspired. I can’t say the singing is that bad seeing its director Robert Altman chose to do the singing live (with the exception of Robin doing ADR) but if only there was more spark to the lyrics than the delivery.

To say “Popeye” is the worst live-action adaption is an understatement. Its not the best, but far from being bad. I feel the cast is having a good time getting into their roles, the sets do look impressive and there is some unique charm to all of it. I just wish there was more of a focus on story but I don’t think the focus veers too much. Its obvious its trying to be its own “Superman: The Movie” by having the story focus on more character than plot but plot can drive characters. In the world of “Popeye,” characters creature situations rather than have situations effect them and as they move about, we the viewer wonder what story we got to work with. Other than that, when you compare it to the movies of today and what they can do with CGI animation and the style of juvenile writing, its nice to have something different after all. The slapstick works once in a while and Altman pays great attention to what viewers see on the screen (even though I wish there were close-up shots for impact). On the whole, its tough to the finish and needs to be rediscovered.

Rental Corner: “Babes” lacks in story but strong on visuals

Ironic as the set behind them is more interesting...

Ironic as the set behind them is more interesting…

Once upon a time, Walt Disney owned the rights to the Oz books and wanted to do a movie with it. At one point, there were plans to make one (titled “The Rainbow Road to Oz”) but they never came together. Thus, 1961 saw the release of “Babes in Toyland” instead. A movie that was not only the studio’s first foray into movie musicals but very much the studio’s first venture into movie musicals and how they work…and it shows. I can understand Walt’s reason behind this movie seeing it does have a “Wizard of Oz” quality in the sets but its easily lacking in heart and audience.

The movie oddly opens up with a stage curtain which confuses me a bit seeing this is our entrance into a world filled with characters from nursery rhymes. This is our first entrance into this unnamed world (supposedly “Mother Goose Village” if you go by the opening song) of colorful characters and I have the feeling I’m watching a staged show. In fact, the first opening number is staged like a live show with obvious sets and the choreography feeling like the actors have rehearsed this for months on end. As much I don’t want to nitpick too much, this is my first problem with “Babes.” The way its set up and executed feels more close to a live telecast/stage show and less like a movie. Jumping to “Wizard of Oz,” its choreographed and executed like a movie and regardless of it being studio shot, there is craft and effort to give Oz a bit of depth. Disney’s “Babes” has flat cardboard sets that feel like a drive-through amusement park ride but at the same time some distinctive charm in design.

The story (if you call it that) revolves around two lovers named Tom Piper and Mary Contrary who go on a set of strange adventures provked by the evil Barnaby who plans to wed Mary and sees all he can do to sepreate the love birds so he can take his opportunity. Apparently, Mary is to be given a huge inheritance upon marrying (yeah, I don’t think that is how marriage works but oh well) and Barnaby wishes to be her husband to gain some dough.

Ray Bolger as Barnaby, a role that hasn't been this over the top and iconic since his perfomace as Oz's Scarecrow

Ray Bolger as Barnaby, a role that hasn’t been this over the top and iconic since his perfomace as Oz’s Scarecrow

He and his henchman do all they can to sabotage the marriage ranging from selling Tom to a batch of gypsies to letting their sheep roam about lost in the Forest of No Return. The first half of “Babes” is not too bad with the exception of having to sit through one musical number too many as characters speak their words out in song and less in dialogue that could have strengthen a lot of character depth. The second half of “Babes” starts to get a bit odd as Tom, Mary and a group of kids find themselves in Toyland after a series of misadventures and try to help poor Ed Wynn who plans an absent-minded Toymaker who is trying to meet the Christmas deadline. At his side is the assistant Grumio who the Toymaker wishes he would invent something useful even though most the inventions the Toymaker tries out blows up in his face due to misunderstanding its purpose.

The first half knows what “Babes” wants to be but the second half veers into a totally different movie by then. All the staged show feeling glomps down into a strange quirky tone that clashes with the timeless feel in the Mother Goose Villiage. In the Mother Goose Villiage, we get patrons of nursery rhymes while in the workshop of the Toymaker we see toy making machines and a shrink ray that screams 1960’s science fiction. These are two different tones that don’t seem to mesh together and it eventually pulls us out.

On top of that, the two romantic leads played by Tommy Sands and Mickey Mouse Club veteran Annette Funicello are unfortunately uninteresting.  Most of the movie, our time is spend seeing them sing their heart out to one another rather than develop their relationship in verbal dialogue. The more they sang a note, the more I wanted to understand them in verbal exchanges.  Even worse is Annette who does nothing in the movie but act sad when things go wrong or just watch on in confusion or amazement. Tom, on the other hand, does have more to do as in one humorous scene he poses as an elderly gypsy woman and acts like a straight man in the second half but I don’t find myself cheering on. He unleashes an army of miniature toys against Barnaby and my reaction is “so what?” Why spend your screen time singing your personality when you can talk it? Because we get to understand how the character talks and how we can connect to him/her.

More screen time is spent on Ray Bolger and his performance as the wicked Barnaby complete with top hat, mustache, cape and cane. This is the perfect definition of a stereotypical villain that twirls his facial hair while the damsel is tied to the railroad tracks. And surprisingly, Bolger’s villian is far more interesting and more developed. Ray Bolger tackled vaudeville and played the Scarecrow in 1939’s Wizard of Oz (further cementing Disney’s Oz obsession) and its a nice change to see him playing the antagonist. He doesn’t hold back and you can tell he’s having a good time as he tap dances his villainy one step at a time. His goons for hire Gonzorgo (Henry Calvin) and Roderigo (Gene Sheldon) also pull in some heavy laughs. Coming off of TV’s Zorro, its interesting to see the characters that made them famous transitioned here (with Gene’s mute performance from Zorro also used here to some memorable moments.)

Our heroes in the Forest of No Return, much like how lost we are

Our heroes in the Forest of No Return, much like how lost we are

“Babes in Toyland” can be summed up just one massive cartoon adapted for live-action. The sets, tone, humor and everything around it screams Disney cartoon. I do appreciate Walt going the extra mile in not animating this but it only leaves me wondering how this would have played out if it was hand-drawn and not three dimensional. Some of the special effects in this movie complement that as Tom sees animated stars after getting hit on the head and a malfunctioning machines screams “HELP!” in voice and in animated captions. This doesn’t detract too much but it can be bothersome. Case and point is the Forest of No Return as walking, talking and singing trees with googly eyes feel laughable and less menacing (which is my personal favorite scene for the wrong reasons. I end up rolling with laughter but the song with this scene is catchy too.)

The biggest highlight is the climax which is a lot of fun where a shrunken Tom unleashes an army of toys against Barnaby which is fun to watch and the technical work in the effects make me wonder why wasn’t the whole movie filmed and executed like this to begin with. As much as I have a heart for the sets, special effects and other odds and ends here, “Babes in Toyland” doesn’t fully come together. I still enjoy it for the nostalgia sake but not as much as I did as a kid. Its obvious the target here was for a younger crowd and it shows but I feel youngsters might be bored with Tom and Mary who are the heroes of the film.

I only see this movie working if it was done as either a live-telecast in the 1960’s or perhaps a Broadway show made by Disney seeing the sets easily transition it to that feeling and state. The other option is to see this expanded into a length roadshow production as some subplots do go unresolved. We never see Bo Peep get her missing sheep and we don’t know if the Toymaker’s Christmas delivery is made. On the whole, “Babes in Toyland” is not a terrible movie but its very uneven. Its not timeless as Oz was and it does have the 1960’s tint that makes it dated despite efforts in the creativity.  I can’t say I didn’t enjoy as I did get a kick out of the side characters and some of the songs are enjoyable. And the restoration effort on Blu-Ray is good enough to recommend it for those nostalgia collectors. But the biggest fault is that “Babes” easily is trying to target ages 0 to 8. And anyone older than that will find it tiresome or enjoyable just for its overly cartoony nature like I did. While its far from being bad, its so far from being a classic. For if little happy blue birds can fly beyond the rainbow, why…oh why, can’t I?

Rental Corner: “Pussycats” fun but lack much bite

It could have been worse...

It could have been worse…

“Josie and the Pussycats” are a popular rock group that originated from the Archie comic’s hometown Riverdale but people probably remember them best for the Hannah Barbera TV show. I do recall seeing some episodes as a kid but my memory is very faint. I do recall the significance of the band was how they were dressed up like cats complete with ears and tails. Joining them at the aid were two managers that were shifty and acted more villainous than heroic which struck me odd as a kid. What I do remember is seeing promos for the 2001 live action film and thinking how could they take another childhood property and make it for the adults. Now that I’m older and finally got around to seeing it, I wonder more why this wasn’t given the wider appeal for kids and adults because its light nature could be perfect for family viewing. And yet, fun as it can be, it has problems.

Rachael Leigh Cook, Tara Reid and Rosario Dawson do a great job bringing the band to life as the Pussycats are depicted as less of a 1970’s disco act and more of a modern rock band with a tablespoon of punk. At times, they can be be fun to watch with how their different personalities play off of each other (with the exception of Tara’s bubbly performance of Melody getting split laughs and groans) but it teeters too close to a Spice Girls parody and feeling like a Spice Girls clone at the same time. Its the standard group with different character traits that play off each other but its handled fine.

Alan Cumming plays a sneaky promoter named Wyatt Frame from MegaRecords who recruits the band in becoming their manager in hopes of getting a big hit for the company after his last band goes down in a plane. But as it turns out, there’s a great conspiracy at MegaRecords as its owner (Parker Prosy) wants to use music to send out subliminal messages so listeners (mostly teenagers, obviously) to manipulate their spending habits and lifestyle ranging from what coffee they should drink to even the style of clothing. Even Josie and the gang gets subjected to the brainwash as their band becomes number one within a week and slowly the group starts to wonder just what is behind those platinum selling CDs that are being produced.

In some ways, this is a good concept on satirizing big corporations and their motive on what they sell to young minds advertises their identity, but it doesn’t feel completely there. Some scenes lead to great comedic moments with teens rushing for the next “big thing” they should have and moments of demonstration do get a decent chuckle. But what contradicts it has to be the never ending line of product placement that is every single frame of the movie from beginning to end. This helps it as well as harming it to the point midway we either get the message and wish it would stop or just cut to the point and stop littering the screen with Coca Cola products or the logo for Target.

I fell like this is a much lighter take on John Carpenter’s They Live where aliens are trying to convert humans into consuming machines with billboards that read “Consume and Marry” or money that says “This is your god.” But the tone of the film is more incline with The Incredible Shrinking Woman and Wayne’s World (actually more Wayne’s World) and they didn’t resort to the point where the aspect of product placement was literally hitting you over the head with it. It all builds up to a big joke in the end but it doesn’t feel like a satisfying payoff. The acting complements this with Alan Cumming going hilariously over the top when needed while everyone is aware of the ridiculous nature of the movie without sending too many “winks to the camera.”

In fact, the whole tone of “Josie and the Pussycats” is rather cartoony and over the top to the point it can’t be taken seriously. Its a tour de force comedy that is trying out satire rather than throwing something at the screen and seeing it sticks. Most of the satire does work but some of the jokes don’t get too many laughs. As said, the character Melody is so bubble-headed that you wonder if she was experimented on by scientists before being let out into the real wold with her absent minded personality. Even the villain’s motive is so stupid that you can’t help but laugh at how so much effort went into an evil plan for such a silly reason.

I don’t think this movie is that bad as many make it out to be but it falls flat of being anything perfect. At times it can be smart and clever and at times it feels more like a Wayne’s World clone with the idea of an underground talent being manipulated for sponsorship or in this case controlling the mind of America’s youth and pop culture. But there really isn’t that much risk going on here. When something bad happened in the universe of Wayne’s World, it felt like the whole world was in peril. In the universe of Josie and the Pussycats (at least the movie), if something bad happens, there really is no feel of endangering our characters because when someone gets hurt, they come back in a cast or with minor scratches. Again, I know “Josie” is meant to be light-hearted but with a movie taking on themes of subliminal messages and consumerism, you wish it took more risks. But as it stands, its a harmless flick I’m sure you’ll be safe watching. I can’t remember any bad morals it was saying or anything completely offensive about it (well, maybe the Valerie character getting the shaft at times which is questionable). Its just goofy fun that I’m sure won’t rot your brain. And now if you’ll excuse me, I have to pre-order Guardians of the Galaxy and the new Turtles movie while purchasing a furry suit and hoping my grocery store has plenty of Cherry 7 Up in stock….wait, what?